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Govt enlists opposition support on OBC panel’s statutory status

LiveMint logoLiveMint 09-07-2017 Gyan Varma

New Delhi: Ahead of the upcoming monsoon session of Parliament, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has managed to enlist the support of opposition parties for a constitutional amendment bill (the 123rd Amendment Bill, 2017), that seeks to give constitutional status to the National Commission for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (NSEBC).

The move is interesting because the bill requires a two-third majority in both houses of Parliament. The government lacks such a majority on its own, especially in Rajya Sabha, where opposition parties, led by the Congress, hold the key to the passage of the bill. According to the bill, the existing National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC) will be replaced by the NSEBC.

“No party wants to oppose the bill. There is a near unanimity that bill should get passed. There are certain concerns of the Congress and Left parties and they want to move the amendments but there is no opposition to the bill. The final meeting of the bill is on 14 July when the report is expected to be given to the members of the select committee of Rajya Sabha,” said people aware of the development.

The move, which was cleared by the Union cabinet in March, is a push for a new OBC (other backward classes) commission. It is significant because it comes in the backdrop of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s efforts to make political inroads into the OBC community. OBCs played a significant role in the party’s landslide win in the recent Uttar Pradesh elections.

With the powerful Jat community demanding to be classed as an OBC—a politically sensitive issue—the creation of such a body with constitutional status may give the government more powers to accommodate such requests.

A breakthrough in the discussions for the constitutional amendment bill means this is the second time that the government has successfully managed to convince the opposition to help pass a constitutional amendment bill. The earlier one was on the goods and services tax (GST) which was supported by the opposition after Prime Minister Narendra Modi intervened and met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh for support.

“We support the bill but we have certain concerns so we will move amendments and hope that government would accept our demands on the bill,” said a senior opposition leader.

Some of the political parties, primarily Congress, Janata Dal (United) or JD(U) and Left parties want the Union government to ensure that the Commission would be allowed to examine requests and recommend inclusion of communities into the central list of NSEBC and the powers would not be diluted, according to opposition leaders. Opposition parties want that the Commission should continue to have powers to look into complaints of over or under inclusion in the central list.

“Earlier the procedure was that the Commission would receive requests for inclusion/exclusion, either directly or through government, do an independent inquiry and submit its report to government which was bound to accept its recommendation. If the government did not accept its recommendation, it was supposed to submit its reasons in writing. The problem in the present bill is that the government is only required to consult the National Commission whose advice will not be binding. It will only be the government which will have the power to bring a bill in Parliament to amend the list. If the government doesn’t bring a bill, Parliament cannot amend the list,” said those aware of the matter.

Among the other concerns of opposition parties is that while the advice of the earlier National Commission used to be “ordinarily binding” on the government, the new bill must continue to give similar powers to the Commission and the government must give reasons to the Commission if it does not accept a piece of advice. Opposition parties also argue that earlier the Commission was expected to periodically revise the central list every 10 years but in the new bill there is no mention about periodic revision.

“The government must also clarify what procedure will be followed to create the initial central list, the role of National Commission in preparing the initial list. The government should also answer if the initial central list be based on the existing central and state list. The party in power must also explain if the existing central list would be amended,” said those in the know of development.

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